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Eben Ice Cave

Eben Ice Cave.  The cave is formed as melting and seeping groundwater trickles over a rock overhang and freezes.  This cold winter was great for ice formation!

Eben Ice Cave. The cave is formed as melting and seeping groundwater trickles over a rock overhang and freezes. This cold winter was great for ice formation!

This winter, everyone was talking about the Lake Superior ice caves up in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  I thought about going, even tentatively planned to go, and then it got so popular that they were seeing crowds of 10,000 or more on the weekends!  I visited the Apostle Islands last summer, and had had the opportunity to kayak out to those “sea caves” in a small group.  I thought that it would be pretty neat to see them frozen, but that the huge crowds might detract from my enjoyment of wild nature.  Of course, if this weather keeps up, the big lake will stay frozen all summer and I’ll get to go see them in July…  just kidding!

Instead of making the three-hour drive to Bayfield, I took a 1.5-hour trip to Eben, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, south of Munising.  There is a rock overhang there surrounded by seeps which turns into an “ice cave” of its own every winter.  On the day we visited (slightly warmer than average for this winter), there were maybe 150 other people there while we were, including the half-mile hike in and out.  It was quite windy and lightly snowing, which meant that this 3/4 mile through the woods was infinitely more pleasant that a half mile out on the open ice of Lake Superior would have been!  The cave itself included spectacular formations, and was well worth the visit!

From the inside, looking out

From the inside, looking out

These kids have obviously been exploring the Eben Ice Cave for quite a while!

These kids have obviously been exploring the Eben Ice Cave for quite a while!

 

 

I love these falls of ice seeping out from the wall under the overhang!

I love these falls of ice seeping out from the wall under the overhang!

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The cave is on public land, but within a federally-designated wilderness area, which means no motorized use is allowed. The access is on private land, thanks to a generous landowner.  From the tiny town of Eben, small signs point the way to the parking lot.  Someone, perhaps the landowner or perhaps the Forest Service, had set up portable toilets for the crowds to use, and a donation box for them, and there was a small private concession stand in the parking area as well.  The first part of the walk parallels the snowmobile trail across an open farm field, and after that it enters the Hiawatha National Forest, Rock River Wilderness.

The ice at the very top of these interior seeps was clear enough to see through like glass

The ice at the very top of these interior seeps was clear enough to see through like glass

More ice forming...

More ice forming…

These stalactites of frost grew off the ceiling of the cave

These stalactites of frost grew off the ceiling of the cave

National Forest Wilderness Areas are intended to be managed free of human input, so no vegetation management (eg: timber harvest, trail clearing) is allowed, and there are no facilities for those recreating in the area.  For me, this makes for an ideal adventure.  There were plenty of down trees for my dog to jump over and under, side trails to explore (if the snow weren’t so deep…), steep ravines, and old-growth trees.  It is a beautiful hike, but will take some effort!  Snowshoes are likely to be unnecessary, since the trail is so well-packed, especially on weekends.  Ice cleats (or commercial ice-walking grips) are highly recommended… but we didn’t have them and didn’t feel that we needed them, either.  [Note to readers: three weeks ago I slipped on ice and broke my leg, so I advise that you do as I say, not as I do!]

Check out that slippery floor!  It was awesome to get to walk around among these formations!

Check out that slippery floor! It was awesome to get to walk around among these formations!

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Savage

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Though my goal had been to get to the Smoky Mountains, I never made it… but had great fun exploring the Cumberland Plateau instead.  Covering much of central Tennessee, this plateau is nearly 1,000 feet above the height of the Cumberland River (to the southeast), and contains an incredible diversity of plant and animal species.  It has been carved over millenia by many creeks, and the geology of the area is apparent at every turn.

I decided to take a short backpacking trip (one night… though now I’m convinced to go back for more), and decided on the Collins Gulf sector of the Savage Gulf State Natural Area, which covers nearly 16,000 acres on the western edge of the Plateau.  On a longer trip, I could have traversed the area, which is cut through by several rivers and creeks, giving it the aerial appearance of “a giant crowfoot.”  If you are handy at reading a topographic map, you’ll find this one quite impressive.

Despite the topography, I figured that a twelve-mile hike in one day was do-able, if potentially exhausting. The volunteer at the ranger station had told us that in the drought and late fall conditions, there was “no water” on the trail, so we packed in all we would need.  It turned out that there was enough water to filter in several places, so I will do my research better next time.

View from the top of the plateau, with shortleaf pine in the foreground, and hardwoods blanketing the hillsides

View from the top of the plateau, with shortleaf pine in the foreground, and hardwoods blanketing the hillsides

Twelve miles should have been do-able... if several sections of the trail hadn't looked like this!

Twelve miles should have been do-able… if several sections of the trail hadn’t looked like this! On several signs and in the park brochures, we were repeatedly admonished, “No hiking after dark.” Foolishly, I didn’t think much of it until we started encountering sections these rickety boulders!

Blazes marked the trail to keep us on track, here winding between trees and rocks in the upland

Blazes marked the trail to keep us on track, here winding between trees and rocks in the upland

The trail traverses the edge of this cliff, which would have included "the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek" in a wetter year.

The trail traverses the edge of this cliff, which would have included “the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek” in a wetter year.

The author, on a trail switchback along rock wall terraces, built by early settlers to provide areas flat enough for grazing livestock!

The author, on a trail switchback along rock wall terraces, built by early settlers to provide areas flat enough for grazing livestock!

The loop trail we took crossed the "Gulf" (a local term for ravine or hollow) twice, on suspension bridges.

The loop trail we took crossed the “Gulf” (a local term for ravine or hollow) twice, on suspension bridges.

We took a rest where the trail encountered Fall Creek, the waterfall a trickle of its springtime glory, layers of geology exposed to our autumn view

We took a rest where the trail encountered Fall Creek, the waterfall a trickle of its springtime glory, layers of geology exposed to our autumn view

Though the sun still shone, it got harder and harder to see our way in the evening, under the shadows of cliffs and trees.  We crossed our last boulder field after the sun had set, but just before all of the light was gone.  The last mile or so, though, we hiked in the dark, returning to camp to make a well-deserved supper by our headlamps!

Though the sun still shone, it got harder and harder to see our way in the evening, under the shadows of cliffs and trees. We crossed our last boulder field after the sun had set, but just before all of the light was gone. The last mile or so, though, we hiked in the dark, returning to camp to make a well-deserved supper by our headlamps!

Mammoth Cave

I found myself winding through the hill country south of Louisville as the sun began to set.  There was no need to get off onto side roads – the scenery was amazing from the highway (and the same was true on the trip back north through Lexington).  I was having trouble deciphering the Kentucky State Park campground information, so decided to spend the night at Mammoth Cave National Park.  After a sub-freezing night among the oaks in the campground, I decided to wake up early, pack up quickly, and get in line for the first cave tour of the day.  The second accidental detour of the trip was another wonderful experience!

The scenery at the Mammoth Cave NP campground is lovely, but if it would have been busier, the quarters might have seemed a bit cramped.

The scenery at the Mammoth Cave NP campground is lovely, but if it would have been busier, the quarters might have seemed a bit cramped.

The park was busier than I would have expected for a weekday in October, and the tour I was hoping to take sold out with the customer in front of me.  After chatting with the very helpful park staff, I decided on the “Historic” tour, which was also enjoyable.  After my limited experience, I would recommend that you not visit the park as I did!  Plan to spend two full days, and include some above-ground hikes and maybe two different cave tours, one each day.  It really is an amazing natural wonder, and worth a little bit more attention!

The lobby at the park was lovely - a brand new building that evoked some of the earliest National Park architecture.  The line for tours curled around one side, while the other had a small museum so you could get a geology lesson while you waited.

The lobby at the park was lovely – a brand new building that evoked some of the earliest National Park architecture. The line for tours curled around one side, while the other had a small museum so you could get a geology lesson while you waited.

Mammoth Cave, unlike many of the other “show caves,” is largely a “dead,” or dry cave.  That is, in most of the cave there are no showy stalactites and stalagmites, no pretty colors with minerals trapped in the calcite, or water dripping into pools.  In fact, as the Historic tour showcases, the cave was dry enough to have had many uses throughout history.  The cave was carved as a channel of the Green River passed underground, eating away at the limestone in the process.  Over millennia, the above-ground river carved a deeper and deeper passage through its valley, and the altitude of the underground portion of the river decreased accordingly.  This created several layers of passages, connected by vertical tunnels, and in the lowest of these, the river continues to flow today (in the cave, they call it the River Styx).   As a result, Mammoth Cave is, with 365 miles of known passages, twice as long as any other cave in the world!

Early visitors to the cave had to tour by the light of flares, which they used to inscribe their names in soot on the ceiling!

Early visitors to the cave had to tour by the light of flares, which they used to inscribe their names in soot on the ceiling!

Members of my cave tour ahead, in the dim light.

Members of my cave tour ahead, in the dim light.

It is possible to take a hike through the oak- and maple-dominated upland to the point where the River Styx comes out of the ground and re-joins the main Green.  I wish I would have taken that hike, as well as one to areas of the park which contain older-growth forest.  If you go, spend more time than I did, and tell me all about what I missed!

Bond…

IMG_0272While I’m on the subject of frozen waterfalls, I saw a beautiful one the other day!  On a whim, I drove up to Bond Falls, a spectacular multi-level falls on the Ontonogan River near Paulding, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It is located within the boundaries of the Ottawa National Forest, but the park facilities are managed by the Upper Peninsula Power Company, which operates the dam just upstream, and designated by the Michigan DNR as a State Scenic Site.  None of that matters much to the casual visitor though – we are more impressed by the scope of the falls – a 50′ cumulative drop and over twice that wide at the bottom!

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Though it’s been quite cold at night, it has been warming up enough during the days to keep most of the ice off the face of the falls.  There was still a lot of accumulation from the spray, and in more slowly-moving sections, which was impressive in itself.

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It had gotten cloudy on the drive over, but a few rays of sun came out for about two minutes, and I got some great shots of the spray hitting the walls of ice at the bottom.

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In fact, one of the best parts about this falls was how slowly it moved.  As a result, there were many small currents and eddies to see, and the rock was mostly visible under the clear water, without clouds of foam and bubbles to obscure it.

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In one section, it was clear that some concrete structures had been added , both to shore up the banks of the river, and within the bed of the river/falls itself.  We speculated that it might be intended to slow the water down for safety, or to enhance the appearance of the waterfall (unlikely to be done IMG_0301nowadays but a common enough practice earlier in our history).  We figured that it must be somehow related to the dam near the top of the cascades, but couldn’t quite figure out how.  It piqued my curiosity, and I did a little research.  It turns out that, when the dam that created the Bond Falls Flowage was built, all the water from the natural river was engineered to go through the power dam, and the falls actually dried up in some seasons, so they had to divert water back in order to make it keep flowing.  Since it flowed more slowly than before, with lower water volume, they put in the structures along the banks to keep all the water IMG_0386heading to the main falls, and the structures in the river for the sake of appearance.

 

 

 

 

On a warmer day, I could have sat on the banks and just watched for hours as the water poured over the IMG_0291rocks, pooling here, flowing there, turning around and seeming to flow back up hill before rushing over another ledge.  Of course, on a warmer day there would have been crowds of people there to change the experience.   This is by no means a “wild” falls – not only has it been slightly domesticated by the structures explained above, but the viewers are “tamed” as well, constrained the a wooden boardwalk at the bottom (offering excellent views while keeping everyone safe) and handrails on the trail up along the river (useful on the steep sections and to remind the foolhardy not to step closer to the rushing water).  However, given its history it might not exist at all, had someone not recognized its value and kept it flowing strong for the rest of us!

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White Sand Beaches

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a perfect fall weekend late last September, I found myself exploring the “North Coast” of Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  My chosen timing was a little bit of a crapshoot – it could have just as easily been 40 degrees and drizzling, as the sunny and high-in-the-60s that I got instead.  Unfortunately, that brought with it the complication of itinerary-planning.

At Pictured Rocks, as at many National Parks, backcountry camping is allowed only at designated sites, and only by permit.  Pictured Rocks is a day’s drive from both Chicago and Detroit, not to mention all the points between, so its 15 or so backcountry sites can be booked far in advance.  I figured that with my post-Labor Day travel, the sites wouldn’t all be reserved.  Though I wasn’t wrong about that, by the time I arrived at the Visitor’s Center late on Friday, the pickings were slim.   I had to scrap my initial plan, as the more popular sites had already filled up for all three of the nights I had planned to be there.  I wound up making a tour of the Beaver Basin Wilderness, a valley of inland lakes and maple-beech forest, and spending the bulk of the weekend in a less-busy area of lakeside cliffs.  I never really saw the eponymous “pictured rocks,” except from a distance, but got a good taste of the rugged beauty of the landscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI arrived at the Beaver Basin Overlook in the late afternoon, and met a group of bear hunters coming off the trail.  I couldn’t take long to chat, though, or to observe the fabulous view – I had four miles to go before the sun set!  I walked down an old road grade into the valley, and flushed a couple grouse in a grove of young aspen near the crossing of Lowney Creek.    I couldn’t stop by the babbling rapids, but pushed on, up a rise, and onto a broad plateau of maple woods.  This was the least interesting part of the walk, but it eventually transitioned into an older-growth forest, with large beech and yellow birch interspersed with knobby old sugar maples.  Finally the flat woods ended, and I began to push uphill – the end of my power-hike finally near!  I meandered along the increasingly-sandy trail, and the hemlocks that had transitioned into red pines became white and jack pines in turn.  The ostrich ferns and wildflowers wereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA replaced with bracken ferns, blueberries, and short grasses.  Within moments I had gone from a northern mesic forest to a sand barren and finally to a north-facing cliff….where I arrived just in time to watch the sun set over Lake Superior!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First view the next morning

First view the next morning

I spent that first night, as well as the second, at Pine Bluff campground, along with three other groups the first night, and only two the second.  I could hear

My campsite

My campsite

the waves crashing from my tent, but was sheltered enough from the wind.  There’s plenty of fresh water there, too… the only catch is you have to wade out waist deep in the big lake to get at it! So I waited in my tent until I was too warm in the morning, then I ran down there clothed in long underwear, clutching my water bottles and filter.  In late September, the lake is still pretty close to its high temperature for the year… but the air temperature has gone down a

Sevenmile Creek flowing into Lake Superior

Sevenmile Creek flowing into Lake Superior

bit.  After a few minutes of pumping my filter, trying to keep it under the waves but above the sand, I had a couple bottles of water, but couldn’t feel my toes anymore!  I ran back up the hill to get my blood moving, changed into dry clothes, and prepared for the day.  I hiked east to Sevenmile Creek, enjoyed lunch by the creek, and walked around on the beach.  The beaches looked tropical, with white sands and clear, bright blue water… but the winds were a good reminder of fall in The U.P.!    I filled up all of my water bottles in the creek and hiked them back to the campground… didn’t want to take another chilly dip that night!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Land of Clear Blue Waters!

Land of Clear Blue Waters!

The next day, I hiked westward towards the Coves campground, named for the numerous rocky inlets near it.  I took a couple of breaks along the way, one of whch was over an hour of lying on a sun-baked rock, reading a book in one of these sheltered nooks.  I got closer and closer to the outcrop of the pictured rocks, and though I never got all the way there,  I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAenjoyed the colors and the formations of the cliffs I was on.  The Coves campground was nearly deserted on a Sunday night in late September, so I was able to relax after my long and exhausting hike.  The next morning, I regretted not

Weatherbeaten rock in a Cove

Weatherbeaten rock in a Cove

Rock on the inland edge of a Cove

Rock on the inland edge of a Cove

having swim in Lake Superior since my arrival, so I decided to take a real dip – I kept my long underwear on again (a poor substitute for a wet suit!), but I actually ducked all the way under the water for at least a few seconds.  It was a lovely morning, and the “swim” was only part of it, but it helped to energize me for the trek back to civilization.  The hike out was long, but mostly pleasant,  I took the west side of the inland lake this time, with somewhat more varied woods, and a break for lunch on the swampy shores of that lake.  When I got back to my car and looked out at the Beaver Basin Overlook, I found that the foliage had become noticeably more orange since my first look a few days earlier.  As I drove south away from the coast, I saw the “fall colors” begin to “peak” as I neared home.  A beautiful end to a lovely weekend!

The "Pictured Rocks" at sunrise on my last morning

The “Pictured Rocks” at sunrise on my last morning

Beaver Basin Overlook on Monday afternoon

Beaver Basin Overlook on Monday afternoon

Day Trip

On Monday night, I had a nice dinner that featured some very good, but very rich sausage on a cheese flatbread.  As a result, my digestive juices were still working on it the next morning, and everything that reminded me of those sausages seemed to give extra vigor to the process.  That wouldn’t seem to be a problem, but as I was driving through south-central Wisconsin, I was assaulted by signs like this in, approaching, and around nearly every town:

I decided that, sausage signs notwithstanding, a leisurely road trip through the area would be in order, hopefully to be capped off by a hike when I was feeling more lively.  As I pulled into Lodi, WI, I thought that I might grab a bite to eat (at a small cafe just down the street from this meat market… and involving no meat products), and take a trip down memory lane.  We used to come to Lodi occasionally as kids for two reasons: so that we children could see Susie the Duck, and so that my mom could go to the antique shop.  I noted on the way in that there were new banners on the lampposts approaching downtown that touted Susie, so I swung by to say, “hello” for old time’s sake.  Alas, although she is still present as an icon in the town’s

Susie the Duck

signage and collective consciousness, she is no longer a downtown fixture herself.  “Susie,” used to be ensconced in a nest box at the point where Spring Creek flows through downtown Lodi, at a little park between two underpasses.  We would go and watch her sit there, or maybe swim around a bit, and if we were lucky we could talk my mom out of a dime so that we could split a handful of corn toss for her.  The park has been renovated, the nesting box removed or repurposed, and I saw only male mallards swimming in that stretch of creek.  Her sign still stands, though, and Susie the Duck day continues to be an important part of Lodi’s calendar!

There are a few other, much more accommodating, parks in Lodi, all along the creek that has been channelized to flow along the main street (appropriately named Water St.), through downtown, and out the other side.  And my mom would be pleased to know that, although it has changed ownership a few times, the antique store in an old church is still there (I didn’t go in, though, because I have too many memories of the hours spent there as a young’un)!

Of course, then I had to hit the other attraction that we usually included on the day trips to Lodi: the Merrimac Free Ferry.  The actual purpose of the ferry is for transportation across Lake Wisconsin, and I have used it to that end as well, but yesterday I was pretty much just taking it for fun.  The boat is pulled from one side of the lake to the other on a cable, and the trip takes less than ten minutes. About 15-20 vehicles can fit on, but some are usually larger vans or trucks (or towing boats).  Yesterday was extremely windy, and the choppy “seas” might have been too much for me if it had been a longer journey.

These girls are enjoying the trip as I did at that age

Once on the north side of the lake (actually a dammed flowage of the Wisconsin River), I thought that, being so close and all, I might just take a swing up to Devil’s Lake State Park.  The park is always amazing, but the real impetus this time came from a fellow blogger – Bob Zeller’s Texas Tweeties has been writing about the escapades of fledgling Great Blue Herons, and I wanted to see how one of our local flocks was coming along.  At the foot of the south face of East Bluff, a few dozen heron nests perch in the top of dying pines sandwiched between the CCC Parking Lot and the Outdoor Group Camp.  If you have never been in a Great Blue Heron rookery, you should definitely find one near you and check it out – the noise alone of all those big

A blurry photo of heron nests in the treetops. The accumulated acidity of their feces over the years is gradually killing off these pines.

birds is remarkable, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to see them (or the chicks!) go about their daily routines.  Yesterday was extremely windy, with the tree-tops (and the nests in them) swinging well over 10 feet from side to side in the gusts, so the birds weren’t moving around too much.  I couldn’t find any chicks peeking out of the nests yet, but I would expect that many or most have hatched by now.  I drove out of the park to the north, and headed on my way.

Devil’s Lake State Park reminds me an awful lot of Yosemite for something in the middle of the Midwest – no wonder it’s the most-visited state park in the whole region!

Next stop, a few more miles down the road, was Baxter’s Hollow, a 5,000-plus acre preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy in the Baraboo Hills.  Dogs aren’t allowed in the preserve, so I stayed on the paved road with mine, looking at a couple of different species of native honeysuckle (uncommon in these parts) twining along the road, the babbling Otter Creek, and more.  This is the time of year when the early spring flowers are done and the summer ones haven’t yet bloomed, but I enjoyed my botanizing nonetheless.  If you head to Baxter’s Hollow (which I recommend), I suggest you take along a good and detailed map or atlas that shows all of the small rural roads in the neighborhood.  This area of Sauk County is beautiful, and a meandering trip along those roads can take you past century farms and amazing rock formations, over creeks and through wooded groves, and along some steep and winding roads.

 

The small community of Denzer at the foot of the Baraboo Hills

Crop rotation in Sauk County, WI

Alternating corn and alfalfa is a common technique in this area for minimizing erosion.

Corn coming up! They say that an estimated 95% of the corn crop is already planted as of yesterday, compared with 75% last year. It’s certainly early to see so much of it coming up already!

Wouldn’t you love this farm, at the base of Castle Rock?

I certainly enjoyed my meander over to the town of Plain and the small family-owned Cedar Grove cheese factory.  This is another spot that was a favorite jaunt for my family as kids, and we tried to get there while it was in production so that we could actually see them making the cheese through the big display windows.  Have you ever been to a cheese factory?  If so, then you would also have recognized the distinctive smell that greeted me when I walked in, even though cheesemaking was done for the day – it is somewhat sour and acrid, and would probably be a bad smell if I didn’t associate it with great things like fresh cheese curds!  I perused the cheeses – from specialty to scraps – in the shop and picked out a couple for gifts for the hosts I would stay with later in the week (and that I hoped they’d allow me to sample in their home!).  The Cedar Grove factory installed a “living machine” around a dozen years ago, which allows them to process all of their wastewater by using hydroponic plants and microbes to break down any additives before returning the water.  If you decide to head that way for some of their delicious cheese, I’d take a tour of the factory and living machine while you’re at it, because they’re pretty interesting.

Where is your favorite road trip?  Any special places in south-west or south-central Wisconsin that you love to explore?  Check out a map of my trip to get your own ideas!

Spring Fever

Elderberry just beginning to leaf out. It was easily identifiable in this tangle of lowland shrubs by the distinctively foul smell of its crushed leaves!

On the long drive between one edge of northern Wisconsin and the other, I got a bit of spring fever.  I looked on the map and found a spot that met two of my favorite criteria: it was in a place I’d never been (in this case Taylor County) and it looked like it might have some unique features (a lake surrounded by the Ice Age Trail).  It turned out to be a great choice, not only for the recreation but even for the campsites themselves!

The Mondeaux Flowage is located within a relatively small block of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (Medford-Park Falls Ranger District), at the southern edge of the Forest’s boundary.  Driving in from the west, passing through long miles of flat, dormant farmland, I had some doubts about the character of the public lands ahead.  The Flowage itself was beautiful, however, surrounded by hills covered with high quality northern forest, and echoing with the calls of the season’s first waterfowl.

The site I would have chosen at Spearhead Point Campground

The campground that most impressed me was still closed for the winter, and it surely fills up fast once summer approaches.  At Spearhead Point, each waterfront site had its own dock on the lake, and was quite spacious.   A little under a mile down the road, West Point didn’t have quite the same amenities, but it was smaller and therefore probably

quieter even during the busy season.  The small peninsula is tucked in to a more marshy area, making boating less appealing but bird-watching a bit more lucrative.  Canada Geese stopping over on the lake flew at eye-level by my site, and the calls of ducks, geese, and cranes woke me even before first light.  Later in the year, that might have disturbed my beauty rest, but on this early spring morning it was invigorating to hear life returning to the North.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning I hiked several miles along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.  The Ice Age Trail is distinct within the national trail system, in that it is contained entirely within one state.  Wisconsin is a fascinating place for glacial geologists because at several different times during the ice age, glaciers advanced only part-way into the state before retreating with warming temperatures.  This means that Wisconsin is riddled with moraines, eskers, kettles, drumlins, and other curiously-named land forms resulting from glaciation.  If you travel west-to-east through the southern portion of the state, you might even be able to observe the transition from the never-glaciated Driftless Area, with its steep cliffs and jutted rock outcroppings, to the flat fields and marshes of the oft-glaciated southeastern portion.  East, west, north, and south, the thousand-mile Ice Age Trail attempts to capture that history and showcase some of the state’s geological gems.

The Trail is marked by yellow blazes along it's entire length - convenient in places like these, where a seasonal stream crossing makes the trail difficult to find.

The Ice Age Trail is constructed and maintained for hikers entirely by volunteers with the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Find out more at http://www.iceagetrail.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Taylor County, the trail is primarily within the federally-owned National Forest lands, which makes for beautiful hiking relatively undisturbed by the rest of civilization.  In the few miles I traversed, I walked along an esker created next to the Mondeaux River, steep cliffs covered in hemlock, and rolling hills wet with seeps.  It was a cloudy day, but fairly warm (for March!) and spotting the first wildflowers of spring was an exciting moment!  A small flock of ducks continuously re-appeared out in the middle of the lake, and their identity perplexed me until, on the east side of the lake, I got a close enough look to identify them as Common Mergansers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hepatica leaves stay green all winter, which allows them to be one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often poking up from beneath fallen leaves or even snow.

Male Common Mergansers floating on the Mondeaux Flowage (I love the digital zoom on my camera!)

 

In addition to these sights, I passed by some of the other developed areas on the lake.  For those who don’t want to venture too far off the beaten path, these will provide a welcome addition to your journey – but for the adventurers among us, it might be wise to travel in the off-season.  At the north end of the lake, there is a historic supper club – I didn’t check it out myself, but when I arrived on a Friday evening, the place was hopping with the fish fry crowd.  Next to that is a beach, concession building, and a small park around the dam at the outlet of the flowage.  The south end of the lake is private land, and lined with cottages that seemed to still stand mostly vacant this early in the year.  I walked along the road through the woods and past these cabins in order to turn my one-way trail hike into a 7-mile loop. On the east side, there is one more campground – Eastwood –which does not have the lake frontage of the two on the west side, but is a bit higher on the hill and may be more secluded.  The Ice Age Trail passes right next to all three campgrounds, so there is no need to drive to a trailhead!